Bitterness

Five Ways to Beat Bitterness: #1 – Worship

Bitterness often begins as a normal—maybe even healthy—response to the losses, disappointments, failures, and unfairnesses of life. In that sense, the term “bitterness” is pretty much synonymous with mental, spiritual, emotional (and often also physical) pain.

But the Bible reveals that when indulged and nurtured, bitterness becomes an infection of the inner man that taints—and has the potential to corrupt—all our activities and relationships. I’ve written about the forms and harms of bitterness previously (see Bitterness Happens, and Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives).

The good news is that both Scripture and experience (as application of biblical principles) point us toward some practical strategies for overcoming bitterness in our lives before, or even after, it becomes a chronic problem.

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Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives

Read Part 1.

Bitterness can be a good thing. Hannah’s bitter disappointment led her to earnest prayer. Peter’s bitter weeping moved him toward repentance. Job’s bitter ordeal has been a source of comfort for untold millions. And God commanded Ezekiel to weep bitterly as a means of warning his people of coming judgment (Ezek. 21:11-12).

But for us sinners bitterness is perilous.

At best, continuing bitterness becomes part of a toxic spiritual stew that includes “wrath, anger, clamor and slander” as well as “malice” (ESV, Eph. 4:31). At worst, unchecked bitterness breeds unbelief to the point of life-altering, faithless choices (Deut. 29:18, Heb. 12:15).

Here we’ll consider six ways self-indulgent bitterness poisons us.

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Bitterness Happens

(Read the series.)

Bitterness is a cup we all have to drink sometimes, though some taste it far more often than others and some mixes are far more noxious than others. The bitterest afflictions are those that are continuous—an irreversible decision with seemingly unending consequences, an irreparable but inescapable relationship, the loss of someone so close to us we can’t figure out who we are without them, a gradual ebbing of health and with it both the grief of lost vitality and the resentment of feeling that it happened too soon and wasn’t fair.

In these cases and many more, bouts of bitterness are unavoidable. But with each perfectly normal attack of spiritual and emotional heartburn comes a temptation to indulge and harm ourselves.

I wish I could title this post “I Beat Bitterness and You Can Too,” but my battle with bitterness is ongoing—almost daily. The struggle has led to study, though, and the truths of Scripture have often proved to be powerful medicine. I need to review them, and the exercise may also help you or someone you know.

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The List - Discontentment & Self Deception

A pastor friend mentioned some folks who left his church, unhappy because the church used animated Bible stories with their youth. They complained that those videos distorted the Bible and made light of Scripture. The couple finally left the church. But the church they began attending used the same videos, even more frequently than the first.

Why did this couple rant and rave about videos in one church and turn a blind eye to the same videos in another? Because their faultfinding was insincere, trumped up—and not really about the videos themselves. That was merely the pretext.

We are born with a propensity to lie to ourselves and to others. Dostoyevsky wrote, “Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.” I agree. I witness this in myself, and I see it in others. Our personal pride masks this “lying to self” propensity. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way (ESV): “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

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Smartest Man in the World

Following David’s awful sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the ensuing arranged murder of her husband, Uriah, he was confronted by Nathan the prophet. Among the consequences of his sins were that from his own household enemies would arise against him (2 Sam 12:10-11). Three of his sons—Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah—each caused serious problems for him and his successor, Solomon (2 Sam 13; 14-17; 2 Kings 1-2). There was another person, whose name also began with an “A,” who rose up against him as a betrayer. This man, Ahithophel, had been a close advisor to David and could even have been called “the smartest man in the world.”

Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom” (2 Sam 16:23).

He evidently came out of his own retirement and joined the revolt of Absalom as his trusted advisor (2 Sam 16:23).

What is often overlooked, however, is that Ahithophel evidently became part of David’s family by marriage. Two passages explain that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba (cf. 2 Sam 11:3 with 23:34). One need not speculate too much to see that when David “took” Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:4), Ahithophel must have left David’s service. Later, the crafty Absalom must have assumed (correctly) that Ahithophel would jump at the opportunity to get revenge against David so he asked him to come out of retirement—an offer that the old man simply could not refuse.

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